Prospect officials grill mayor over status of relief funds

Prospect Town Council members Kathryn Zandri and Larry Fitzgerald listen during a special meeting Tuesday night about the status and allocation of American Rescue Plan funding. Andreas Yilma Citizens News

By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News

PROSPECT — Most local officials did not know the town had received $1.4 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds in June.

The Town Council held two special meetings Tuesday night at Prospect Volunteer Fire Department. The first was to discuss the allocation of the ARP funds. The second meeting was focused on the possible purchase of a new fire truck.

The federal government has designated $2.8 million in COVID-19 relief funding for Prospect, according to the state coronavirus local fiscal recovery fund website. The town received half of its allotment June 22.

Town Council Chairman Jeffrey Slapikas said he was shocked to learn of the news Tuesday.

“I’m upset,” he said. “I’m not happy and I knew nothing about this.”

Council member Kathryn Zandri asked Mayor Robert Chatfield a series of questions, including when the funds were received, where the money is now and how he found out.

“I found last week that we had received them,” Chatfield said of the funds, which he placed into a certificate of deposit account Tuesday.

Zandri said, “I hope in the future that your staff keeps you informed so that it doesn’t reflect badly on you in the meeting that we’re asking and you’re not aware of the information.”

Town Treasurer Brenda Martin said the funds were never missing and have been there since June. She said she began to check last week, but said it was oversight on her part.

“I think it was more of a miscommunication,” she said.

Zandri, who was elected to her first term on the council Nov. 2, said she recently called the state comptroller’s central accounts payable division to inquire about the status of the funds.

When Chatfield, who just got elected to his 23rd term, said it wasn’t Zandri’s responsibility to do that, Zandri disagreed, saying it is the council’s duty to call and not out of its purview.

About a dozen members of the public were in attendance at both meetings. Resident Peter Blinstrubas said he disagreed with Chatfield and that it was right for Zandri to check with the state.

“I would say that’s a primary oversight of the Town Council and I applaud Ms. Zandri for taking the initiative as new council person,” Blinstrubas said.

Prospect Volunteer Fire Department members wrote a letter to Slapikas and Chatfield, asking town officials to allocate part of the ARP funds for a new fire truck, which has an estimated cost of $750,000.

Town Council members are looking to put out a survey to seek public input on how to spend the ARP money.

Council member Larry Fitzgerald suggested the town hold a public meeting to inform residents on the federal government’s spending requirements for the ARP funding.